For the Common Good: How Religion Encourages Civic Engagement

Youth and adults who attend religious services are more likely to volunteer in their communities. They are also more likely to donate to charitable causes.

  • High school seniors who frequently attend religious services are more likely to volunteer every week than peers who attend less frequently. Among a sample of 2,423 high school seniors, 17 percent of those attending religious services at least once a week participated in weekly volunteer activities whereas only 7 percent of those who did not attend weekly religious services participated in weekly volunteer activities.1
  • Youth who participate in religious activities are more likely to engage in local community service and to value volunteerism. High school students who engaged in religious youth activities were more likely to volunteer and participate in local community service and to value such civic involvement, which, in turn, predicted their civic participation and value in young adulthood.2
  • Individuals who regularly attend religious services are more likely to volunteer for secular causes than peers who seldom or never attend. Compared with peers who seldom or never attended a house of worship, individuals who attended weekly or more often were more likely to volunteer for causes that were completely secular (60% vs. 29%).3
  • Individuals who are members of church-related organizations are more likely to join nonreligious organizations as well. On average, individuals who reported a high frequency of membership in church organizations were more likely to report participation in secular organizations than those who reported not participating in church organizations.4
  • Compared with peers who seldom attend, individuals who attend religious services weekly are more likely to give monetarily to non-religious causes. The level of religious service attendance was related to charitable giving to non-religious causes. Individuals who reported attending religious services once a week or more were, on average, 10 percent more likely to give to non-religious charitable causes than those who reported attending religious services less than a few times a year.5
  • Individuals who frequently attend religious services are more likely to engage in community projects and to volunteer than those who attend infrequently. Frequency of church attendance was related to civic participation, which was measured as volunteering and participation in community projects. On average, individuals who reported a high frequency of church attendance were more likely to have higher levels of civic participation compared to those who reported a low frequency of church attendance.6
  • Individuals who frequently attend religious services tend to have a more trusting attitude toward society than those who seldom attend. Individuals who reported a high frequency of church attendance tended to have a more trusting attitude toward society then those who reported a low frequency of church attendance. Trust was measured by three questions: (1) “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?”; (2) “Do you think most people would try to take advantage of you if they got the chance or would they try to be fair?”; and (3) “Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful, or that they are just looking out for themselves?”7
  • Individuals who regularly attend religious services are more likely to volunteer for school and youth groups. Individuals who reported attending religious services once a week or more were more likely to volunteer for school and youth groups than those who reported attending religious services less than a few times a year.8
  • Individuals who frequently attend religious services and consider religion to be important in their lives are more likely to give money to the poor. Religious commitment, as measured by religious attendance and the importance of religious faith, was related to charitable giving. Individuals who reported high levels of religious commitment were, on average, more likely to give money to the poor than those who reported low levels of religious commitment.9
  • Individuals who frequently attend religious services are more likely to give in informal ways than peers who seldom or never attend. Compared with peers who seldom or never attended a house of worship, individuals who attended services weekly or more often were more likely to give informally and to do so more often. For example, religious individuals were 57 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to help a homeless person at least once a month.10

Footnotes

  1. Christian Smith and Robert Faris, “Correlation Found Between Religion and Community Service,” National Study of Youth and Religion, UNC-Chapel Hill, preliminary finding #10 (2006).
  2. Elizabeth S. Smith, “The Effects of Investment in the Social Capital of Youth on Political and Civic Behavior in Young Adulthood: A Longitudinal Analysis,” Political Psychology 20, No. 3 (September 1999): 553-580.
  3. Arthur C. Brooks, Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide, (New York: Basic Books 2006): 31-52.
  4. Philip Schwadel, “Individual, Congregational, and Denominational Effects on Church Members’ Civic Participation,” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 44, No. 2 (June 2005): 159-171.
  5. Arthur C. Brooks, “Faith, Secularism, and Charity,” Faith & Economics 43 (Spring 2004): 1-8.
  6. Nojink Kwak, Dhiavan V. Shah, and Holbert R. Lance, “Connecting, Trusting, and Participating: The Direct and Interactive Effects of Social Associations,” Political Research Quarterly 57, No. 4 (December 2004): 643-652.
  7. Michael R. Welch, David Sikkink, Eric Sartain, and Carolyn Bond, “Trust in God and Trust in Man: The Ambivalent Role of Religion in Shaping Dimensions of Social Trust,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43, No. 3 (September 2004): 317-343.
  8. Arthur C. Brooks, “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving,” Policy Review 121 (2003).
  9. Mark D. Regnerus, Christian Smith, and David Sikkink, “Who Gives to the Poor? The Influence of Religious Tradition and Political Location on the Personal Generosity of Americans Toward the Poor,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37, No. 3 (September 1998): 481-493.
  10. Brooks, Who Really Cares, 31-52.